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Rob Parker: AL Central is now Tigers' division to lose

Tigers hold 1 1/2-game lead over Royals

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DETROIT – The Tigers handled their business at home.

On Sunday, they completed a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians with a 6-4 victory at Comerica Park.

They now lead the American League Central by 1 1/2 games with 13 games to go.

The Central is the Tigers' to lose.

Yes, it is. Don't run from it. Don't be scared. If they don't win it, it will be their fault, a major flop. Worse yet, it will be a choke job.

The Tigers have a better roster, especially in terms of star players. The Tigers have the last three American League Cy Youngs in their rotation with Max Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander.

Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez are all swinging the bats well right now. And even the bullpen has improved recently.

Plus, the Tigers have the fifth-highest payroll in baseball. Others in the Central aren't even close.

In fact, their payroll of $162 million is almost equal to the two teams they are fighting to capture the division combined. Kansas City's payroll is $92 million and the Indians' payroll is $82.

Hence, they should have wrapped this division up weeks ago.

Plus, the second-place Royals haven't made it to the playoffs in 28 years, the longest drought in baseball. Yet, the Royals held first place when they left Detroit last week after a three-game series.

The Tigers have won the AL Central three years in a row. And just about every MLB expert picked the Tigers to win the division for a fourth straight year - and easily, too.

It hasn't been the case. The ups and downs of this team have been embarrassing at times.

The Tigers are too good to be in a situation where a bad week could push them out of the playoffs entirely.

But it's a fact. The wild card race is so bunched up in the AL that it could happen. Yes, the Tigers could, somehow, not make the playoffs at all.

But here we are: the home stretch. This is a clear case of how you finish. Nothing from the past- neither good nor bad - matters. This is about finishing strong, finishing the job.

It starts tonight in Minnesota, the first of six games. There are three against the lowly Twins. Then a huge three-game series in Kansas City.

And before you pooh-pooh the last place Twins, just remember they have played the Tigers tough, splitting the first 12 games this season. And in those 12 games, the Twins (76) have outscored the Tigers (73).

"It's a huge series," J.D. Martinez said. "Minnesota's no joke. They've given us trouble. So we have to go in there looking just as important as we're going to Kansas City. Every game counts. It doesn't matter who we're playing right now."

The Royals series after that will be huge, too. The Tigers have had KC's number, beating them in 11 of 16 meetings. Even so, they haven't been able to separate themselves much from the Royals.

Again, the past, good or bad, doesn't matter. The Royals have been one of the best teams in the MLB after the All-Star break, even with their recent stumble.

This past weekend they lost three of four against the lowly Boston Red Sox, including Sunday. The Royals led the game 4-0, only to lose 8-4.

The Tigers must beware as well. They finish the season against the White Sox, three games, and Twins, four games, at Comerica Park.

And while both are en route to bad seasons, they could play the role of spoiler for the Tigers.

Like the Twins, the White Sox have split the season series thus far, winning eight of 16.

It's hard not to go back to 2006. The Tigers just had to win one game against the last-place Royals to win the division.

It was a four-game series. The Tigers didn't win a game and went to the playoffs as the wild card.

This time around, if the Tigers don't take care of their business, the Tigers could be on the outside looking in.

Everything, though, lines up for the Tigers to win this division outright by playing good baseball down the stretch.

If the Tigers don't win, it will be on them.